The Arcade

When the water park closed, my godmother walked us to the arcade. I remember big, heavy, wooden doors that could have come straight out of a medieval English castle opening up to a grand entrance hall decked out with torches and lanterns on the walls. I felt like I had just walked into some kind of fantasy world. I looked ahead and of course there laid the main attractions: noisy sounds, flashing lights, neon colors, and kids laughing and yelling, adults sitting at a possibly authentic long table eating pizza, chatting, or watching over their kids. Everything was surreal; I was dazed from all the stimulation and my six-year old mind didn’t understand the simulation. But simulation of what? Clearly, this was an arcade themed after King Arthur’s time, but what did that mean?

I went back to the Golfland arcades when I was older. New games had since been installed: Ghost Recon, Initial D, DDR, and Tekken 4 to name a few. Out of the four, Ghost Recon was my favorite by far, although I was never any good at it despite all my airsoft playing. The game featured three missions, your typical terrorist shoot-em-up simulation game. What made Ghost Recon different, aside from superior graphics, was the amount of realism in the actual game-play. There were no stupid joysticks and colorful buttons to push as fast as you could. We held replica plastic guns modeled after the real steel G36C assault rifle. We used replica M203 grenade launchers. Right down to the detail of aiming, the game was highly accurate – there were no crosshairs or laser dots on-screen; we used the “iron” sights mounted right on our guns.

Studies claim teens who play first-person shooter computer games tend to be better at handling real guns and are better shots, even if they’ve never touched the real stuff. So if the kids playing the immensely popular Counterstrike FPS video game at the local Internet gaming center Intraplay with nothing more than a keyboard, a mouse, and a damn good computer system were in effect training to be better real steel users, I wonder how much more effective Ghost Recon would be.

What is the appeal of these violent simulation games? That we can kill without fear of actually being killed (at least not literally) ourselves? The adrenaline rush of blowing things on-screen away and seeing their animated blood splatter the floors of some virtual world? How real is too real?

Initial D was another popular hit based off the original anime about street car racing. The game was another simulation. Pick your car, pick your upgrades, and pick your course. You could even pretend to be one of the anime characters or part of the story. That was perhaps the coolest part of the entire game, having the machine print up the Driver License of one of the characters. Unfortunately though, I never really got into the game. It was a dollar to play, a bit too much (most games were a quarter or fifty cents), and like just about virtually every other car racing game, they managed not to simulate the most important aspect of the game – the driving experience!

Although the driver’s seat and clutches were replicated fair enough, the steering wheel handling, brakes, and gas pedal were thoroughly disappointing. There was no tension when I spun the steering wheel, no pressure when I hit the pedals. It was nothing like driving a real car and the lack of realism became my reason (excuse) for losing nearly every race. Despite the game’s popularity, it was one of the few arcade games whose game play I never got drawn towards. I was always out of the story, out of the game. I consciously and easily noticed other things going on around me instead of being absorbed by the game.

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